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GP Week : Issue 39
T here were anxious faces at the start of two days of testing at Jerez. After three beautiful days for the 125s and 250s, it was raining. And there looked as though there was plenty more to come. So what? This is not old- style American racing. No rain- checks in Europe. People get on with it no matter what the weather. Same for everybody. The concern was the result of the new single-tyre rule, with Bridgestone the sole supplier: “We only have four wet tyres, and no intermediates. We could probably use up three of them just in the first day,” said experienced Suzuki crew chief Stuart Shenton. As it happened, the rain in Spain stayed mainly on the plain, and the rolling sherry country round Jerez was soon again basking in spring sunshine. But the allocation of just four wet tyres for a race weekend remains one of very few concerns about the new rule. In every other respect, this much-derided decision taken in a headlong rush at the Japanese GP late last year has worked out so well 44 that the prophets of doom (embarrassingly I was one of them) have had to eat their words. Even riders obliged to adapt their style after years on Michelins are not complaining. One such is Nicky Hayden (pictured lead spread), who also has the task of learning his new Ducati. Sure, there was adaptation involved: “I need more time, but the tyre rules make things easier. I’d be a lot worse off it I was also trying to decide on tyre compound and construction. Previously, almost all testing and practice was about tyre choice or development,”he said. Jorge Lorenzo (top right) is another: “At the beginning I struggled with the Bridgestones. Then I got a good feeling and on the last day at Qatar I was quite fast.” Just a matter of application. He showed the same characteristic in the wet at Jerez. While most stayed in the pits awaiting better conditions Jorge went round and round and round, clocking up an astonishing total of 99 laps for the day: “I needed to get experience on the wet tyres,”he explained. He hadn’t so much had to change his style but to relearn the possibilities: “The tyre permits you to brake much later, and gives more confidence. For me, the rear tyre is not much better than the Michelin. But the front is very much better. You must adjust your braking feeling a lot. The lap time improvement comes on corner entry, very little on the exit.” This may not be such good news to the spectators. Valentino Rossi (above) cites the new much shorter braking distances and harder braking as a major reason why there is much less overtaking than in the past: “At Jerez, there used to be five overtaking places. Now, just one half,”he said at the tests. Bridgestone chief Hiroshi Yamada, relieved of the need to compete and guaranteed to win every race, explained the plans for the year to come. “Here for the tests, as for a race, we have brought two compounds: medium and hard front, soft and medium rear. Overall, we have four different specs for front tyres: soft, medium, hard, and extra- hard; and seven specs for the rear, from extra-soft to extra- hard.” The range was designed to cover the full spectrum of different circuit surfaces encountered during the year, a matter into which Bridgestone has done a great deal of research over the past years, even taking casts of the track surfaces back to Japan. Development would not be as rapid as in previous years, he continued, and while the production staff in Japan was at the same level as previously, there had been some cuts in engineering staff. But development had not come to a stop, and for next year they hoped to refine the tyres still further, broadening their operating range and perhaps reducing the number of different specs required. Bridgestone’s advantage over Michelin was always that the tyres did operate over a broader range. This direction of development was forced upon them because their factory is in Japan and most